A Child & Nature Reunion
child in front of screen

The World Health Organization has recently added 'gaming disorder' to its list of diseases in the International Classification of Diseases.

Like it or not, our children have been born into a world of screens. Even if you keep your home relatively screen-free, screens will surround your child at school, in taxis, at airports, dentist waiting rooms, bus stops, in their friends' hands or at their houses. Virtually everywhere you turn, a screen is waiting around the corner...sound like our Big Bad Wolf yet?

Yes, they keep kids busy when we need a break. Yes, they can distract a child about to have a cavity drilled. But they are not free of costs. While this digital world has lulled us into a state of complacency, telling us it must be all right if everyone else is doing it, the evidence is just starting to come in. Screens can be harmful to our kids.

To start with the obvious, it makes kids more sedentary. And that's bad for their odds of developing obesity or chronic diseases such as diabetes. According to Public Health England, "We are the first generation to need to make a conscious decision to build physical activity into our daily lives. Technology dominates…Societal changes have designed physical activity out of our lives."

Screens compromise learning. Children who spent more than two hours a day looking at a screen get lower scores on thinking and language tests, according to early results of a landmark study on brain development of more than 11,000 children that the National Institutes of Health is supporting.

It changes their brains. Perhaps even more disturbing, the NIH study is noting that the brains of children who spend a lot of time on screens are different. For some kids, there is premature thinning of their cerebral cortex. Previous studies have also found changes in brain structure and function in kids who are exposed to excessive screen time. In fact, much of the damage occurs in the brain's frontal lobe, which undergoes massive changes from puberty until the mid-twenties. This is even more disconcerting as frontal lobe development largely determines success in every area of life—from a sense of well-being to academic or career success to relationship skills.

We've all seen the toddlers grabbing for their parent's iphone at a restaurant or waiting for a sibling to finish gymnastics class. These days, screen addiction starts young. And that's not a good thing. Because the research is truly frightening when we turn to the youngest screen addicts— babies. In a cohort study of early childhood development in over 2000 mothers and children, higher levels of screen time in children aged 24 and 36 months were associated with poor performance on a screening measure assessing children's achievement of development milestones at 36 and 60 months, respectively.

Regulators are starting to notice and take action. The US Department of Health has issued 'recommended limits for screen time' as one of its national 'health improvement priorities' and a key 'disease prevention objective': 'children aged 0 to 2 years …no television, videos or play video games' children aged 2-17 years 'outside of school (for nonschool work) for no more than 2 hours a day. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has advised a further 50 percent reduction in the Academy's previous recommended screen limits to 1 hour per day for 2 – to 5-year-olds, 'a time of critical brain development'.

Yes, there are many benefits of using technology in education, communication, convenience, etc. But when you consider the question of if screens are truly harmful to children, perhaps keep it simple. Think about what your children are missing out on when they are spending their time on screens. We have some ideas...(nature).